Cheering and applause was heard at Ports of Auckland today as the first wharfies walked back on the job.
Engineers were the first to return to work at 8.30am after six weeks of operation by a non-union crew.
The atmosphere at the Port this morning was a stark contrast to the picketing of past months over the high profile contract dispute.
Maritime Union New Zealand president Gary Parsloe said the workers were feeling "buoyed" at going back to work, but that there was still a long way to go before the operation becomes fully functional again.
"It's cost the people of Auckland $38 million, so someone has to be accountable for this," he said.
Parsloe said the engineers will today be working on repairing damaged machinery to prepare for the other 200 odd workers due back tomorrow.
After returning to work, Parsloe said the port will then have to attract the shipping companies back after straying away from the "turmoil" at the port.
"This is the biggest port, they don't want to take their produce all over the country and rail and road it back," he said.
"Common sense says once we've got a collective, they will come back."
Despite returning to work, the union expressed dismay after mediation talks yesterday.
Parsloe said no worker would agree to a collective which allows the employer to contract out work.
The union has agreed to meet again on April 12.